Niantic – Waterford CT: Shoreline Getaway

Why Go to Niantic and Waterford CT?

Niantic and Waterford CT seem both very likely and unlikely prospects for a Romantic Getaway. In Niantic, the looming Millstone Nuclear Power Plant and a dominant train track mars views and cuts off a tiny Main St. from beaches. Waterford seems both lost in time and of the immediate present as home to said Nuclear Power Plant.

View of coastal Waterford CT from Harkness State Park
View of coastal Waterford CT from Harkness State Park

And yet, both Niantic and Waterford have charms that far outweigh these slights. Niantic’s got a beautifully set B&B, a Brigadoon-like river and cove, a lovely waterfront walkway, and a used book “campus” you’ve got to see to believe.

Seniors holding hands in Hole in the Wall Beach tunnel Niantic CT

Waterford is home to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the stunning Harkness Memorial State Park, and a carefully guarded beach.

Pair this Getaway with one in neighboring New London and Groton CT. Waterford borders New London, as a matter of fact, so you can get there – and to Ocean Beach – in minutes.

Look no further, too, for our Best Romantic Hotels in Connecticut recommendations.

Check out this Romantic Getaways in New England for more ideas.

The multi-shed and barn used book complex, Book Barn, Niantic, CT

VISIT: The Book Barn, Niantic

Niantic is home to one of the quirkiest used book “stores” in the country. And in this Getaway Maven’s view, it’s one of the top Offbeat Attractions on the East Coast. The Book Barn is actually three locations – two in town, and the largest, this one, just on the outskirts.

Mo and Randi White started buying and selling used books 25 years ago. Subequently, their little book nook has morphed into a 500,000 used book wonderland, with goats and turtles and assemblage of whimsical buildings on several acres. The “Ellis Island” shed holds “Recent Arrivals,” while the “Haunted Barn” harbors Mystery and Horror novels.

The Whites purchase around ten thousand books a week (from 11am-6pm daily; just announce the number of boxes you’re selling). They sell most for $1 to $5 each. Open daily 9am-9pm, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Niantic Bay Bicycles CT

DO: Rent a Bike at Niantic Bay Bicycles, Niantic

** Due to the pandemic, this shop is short on rental bikes, so for now, none are available. They hope to have them back in stock in Spring 2022.

Explore the wildlife-rich salt marshes and rich-human waterside mansions of Black Rock Point – a six-mile loop from the only bike-rental place in downtown Niantic. Or, of course, you can bring your own.

The hidden Three Belles Marina in Smith Cove, Niantic Ct - one of the prettiest hurricane holes on the East Coast

DO: Kayak on the Niantic River @ Three Belles Marina, Niantic

This stunning landscape is so off the beaten path, even Niantic residents don’t know about it.  That will change, when outsiders start discovering Smith Cove. Do yourself a favor and rent a paddle, pedal or sail kayak for a couple of hours or for the day ($50-$105). Then, bliss out in Connecticut’s version of Brigadoon.

End of Niantic Bay Boardwalk under bridge.

WALK: Niantic Bay Boardwalk, Niantic

Trains wiz by on one side, beaches, the bay, Long Island Sound and the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant are on the other.  It’s rather surreal, a singular Connecticut experience, and really quite lovely any time of year. The 1.1 mile boardwalk begins just under the Route 156 bridge in Cini Park and ends at Hole-In-The-Wall Beach.

Hole in the Wall Beach Niantic CT

BEACH: Hole in the Wall Beach, Niantic

You’ll find Hole in the Wall Beach, with its picturesque cut-through, under the railroad tracks, right behind Gumdrops and Lollipops.

Hole in the Wall sandy beach Niantic

It’s either the end or beginning of the Niantic Bay Boardwalk and borders a leafy park. Although you’ll need a Beach Pass between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can sashay right in off season.

Eugene ONeill Theater Center Waterford CT

SEE: Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford

Founded in 1964, the Eugene O’Neill is the country’s preeminent organization dedicated to the development of new works and new voices for American theater. In the bold tradition of its namesake Eugene O’Neill – four-time Pulitzer Prize Winner and America’s only playwright to win the Nobel Prize in Literature – the O’Neill has been home to more than 1,000 new works for the stage and to more than 2,500 emerging artists.” – from the EOTC website.

Welcome to Waterford Beach CT

BEACH: Waterford Beach Park, Waterford

This small town is very protective of its pristine beach, as well it should be. A new walkway and new bathrooms have been added – thanks to town taxpayers. But on an offseason midweek day, I was able to drive to the beach from the O’Neill Theater complex without needing to stop at the gate. No one was there.

Waterford Beach soft sand and clean

I’m sure, during summer weekends, the place is packed, which is why, while Waterford residents must pay $100 for the whole season, out of town folks are required to cough up $125 per day. There seems to be a workaround, however. Bicycle riders may be able to get a wristband for $10.

Harkness Memorial State Park flower garden

WALK: Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford

Wander the stunning oceanfront 320-acres that surround Eolia, a 42-room Roman Renaissance Revival mansion built in 1906. (For now, available for events only). The home’s gardens and landscape were designed by Beatrix Jones Farrand, one of the most prominent and finest female Landscape Architects in the early 20th Century.

A view of Waterford CT’s waterfront from here, with its church spire, probably hasn’t changed much since Eolia was built.

It’s rather incredible that this wondrous, romantic place is uncrowded most days. You can meander, smell the roses, and ponder life in a most serene environment. Harkness is that rare “hidden treasure” that measures up to the cliche. Open daily 8am-sunset, $5 parking fee for out of State guests only (must reserve online). In State residents, free.

Niantic CT Beach

BEACH IT: Rocky Neck State Park, Niantic-East-Lyme

Roll out your towel on soft sand just under the railroad bridge, just don’t bring a kite. Electric wires above the train tracks can snag flying objects, possibly leading to an unintentional Ben Franklin moment.

Grace Niantic CT

SHOP: Grace, Niantic

From soaps to dresses, boots to pillows, this creatively curated purveyor of shoreline goods is a great rainy-day time-sucker. And, it’s the perfect place to pick up a reasonably priced tunic and a little something for your dinner host.

Bayberries Niantic CT

SHOP: Bayberries

This small gift shop excels in toys, games, souvenirs, baby gifts, and everything, really, that will earn you a good number of house-guest points.

Azalea Niantic CT

SHOP: Azalea

Walk in and take a deep inhale. The subtle scent will bliss you out. You’ll want to seek out and buy whatever it is infusing the air, be it lotions, candles, or other home comfort-nesting products.

Dense, creamy ice-cream and penny candy in a Niantic CT sweet shop

TREAT: Gumdrops and Lollipops, Niantic

The frozen stuff at Gumdrops and Lollipops is some of the most dense, creamy ice cream on earth. Plus, it’s perfect to take to the beach, right behind the parking lot.

Where to Eat in Niantic CT

Cafe Sole outside dining Niantic CT

EAT: Café Sol, Niantic

Fresh salads, organic coffee and innovative sandwiches in a casual counter-and-outdoor-service spot. Save room for ice cream next door at Gumdrops and Lollipops.

The Spice Club Thai restaurant Niantic CT

EAT: The Spice Club Restaurant, Niantic

The Asian offerings at this popular Niantic restaurant are authentic, thanks to Thai owners. But skilled chefs keep patrons coming back for more.

The Shack Restaurant Niantic CT

EAT/BREAKFAST: The Shack, Niantic/East Lyme

On the far side of I-95, and a few miles from Niantic downtown, locals flock to this breakfast spot for huge portions of fantastic from-scratch food – the decadent cornbread in particular.

Where to Stay in Niantic, CT

View from backyard of Inn at Harbor Hill Marina on Niantic CT River

STAY: Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, Niantic

With 16 upscale rooms in two buildings; one with balconies overlooking the lawn and marina, the other with larger lavish chambers and parking lot in foreground of views, you’ll have your choice of accommodations.

At sunset on temperate nights, guest take wine to the Adirondack chairs facing the boats and water, or tote a picnic supper to the Gazebo– an idyllic scene.

Rooms start at $139 off season and go up to $325 for the largest suite in high season, includes parking, wi-fi, soft drinks, baked goods, gourmet hot breakfast, evening wine and cheese, sunset cruise on pontoon boat in season.

STAY: SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Waterford

If you’re planning a Niantic/New London Trip and there’s no room at the Harbor Hill Inn (or you’re just not a B&B/Inn kind of person), this Marriott nearby is a fine alternative. Rates in the $175-$250 range.

Niantic, Waterford CT Getaway Pin


  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine,, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.